Standing on a hillside in Victoria, I look across the open fields and see a million scruffy, wild bushes with little red fruits. The first frost of the year was last night and the little old lady whose house I clean has asked me – no begged me – to take her out into the countryside.
Whenever I come to her house, it’s already clean. There’s a pot of tea on the table and she’ll casually mention “by the way, I brewed some tea for myself but I’ve made too much…” It’s become such an important ritual for me that I only accept a token fee for the cleaning services. She empties a biscuit tin of coins she’s accumulated throughout the week, and I clean the teacups that we’ve just dirtied.
I’d spent the value of about ten weeks cleaning just on the petrol to get us out to the remote hill. Why she insisted on this spot would soon be made clear. Like a bird let out of a cage, the little old lady sprung from the passenger seat of my hatchback, bounding through the fields of wiry, scruffy, leafless bushes. She was picking the ugly little fruits and bunching them up in her woollen sweater. She was a hundred metres away and gesturing at me to help her gather them.
After a short time, her sweater was full and stretching to her knees. I showed her my meagre yield. “Oh no, those are all scabby. They should look like this.” She dumped her haul from her elongated sweater straight into the boot of my car. They were the most robust, radiant, impressive fruits I’d ever seen. They were practically bioluminescent – glowing with goodness. And they’d come from an abandoned patch of forsaken weeds. It was inconceivable that the fruit had come from the same field as my pitiful, diseased pickings.
Her lips were sealed all the way home regarding the fruit picking. I knew intuitively that I ought not to ask because she probably had some secret plan. Instead we discussed life, love and other matters.
The next week I showed up for my regular cleaning. The house smelled sweet and alluring. Everything was in order and there wasn’t a speck of dust to be seen. There would be no pot of tea today. “Rose-hip cordial and rose-hip jam on scones.” Announced the little old lady proudly. I helped her carry the silverware tray from the kitchen to the coffee table where she began to explain…
“A teaspoon of this cordial and you’ll ward off scurvy for life.” I took a sip and my senses were overwhelmed. It was soul quenching.
“The first frost begins the processing of the fruit.” She explained. “It makes them pulpy and releases the sugars.”
We lamented over the changing of times and the loss of knowledge in the age of information. I finished the last scone with delight and gladly took the one dollar and forty-five cents from the old lady’s coin tin as payment for cleaning the dishes.
I wonder what knowledge she’ll impart next week.